UMG Claims Steve Earle, More Artists’ Masters Not Lost in 2008 Fire Despite Lawsuit
Universal Music Group is pushing back against a class-action lawsuit filed by a group of artists including Steve Earle that seeks restitution for master tapes they say were destroyed in a massive fire that swept the Universal backlot in Hollywood in 2008. In a new filing, the music giant claims some of those tapes were not destroyed, after all.
Billboard reports that UMG's attorney, Scott Edelman of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, filed a declaration on Wednesday (Aug. 21) that called Earle, Tom Petty and Tupac Shakur's standing in the lawsuit into question by claiming none of them suffered irreparable damage in the fire.
Earle joined Soundgarden, Petty's ex-wife Jane Petty, Hole and a representative for Tupac Shakur's estate to sue UMG in June, claiming the company did not share $150 million in settlements and insurance claims it received after the fire with the artists whose catalogs were destroyed. The initial filing also alleges UMG deliberately lied and obscured facts about the fire and its aftermath to limit its legal exposure and maximize its profit from the fire.
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The new filing in response includes emails sent in July and August informing the artists' attorneys that none of Earle, Petty and Shakur's original masters were lost in the fire. According to those emails, none of Petty's masters were lost, while Earle and Shakur lost assets including secondary production tapes and videos. UMG claims to have viable alternate copies of the materials those artists lost.
Edelman accuses the artists and their attorneys of using the discovery process as a fishing expedition to try to add more plaintiffs to what he says is a "meritless" case.
"The plaintiffs' attorneys have already been informed that the original masters for virtually every artist named in their meritless lawsuit are safe in our storage facilities or theirs," UMG says in a statement on the matter. "The fact that they still pursue legal action, and even try to drum up additional bogus claims, makes clear that their true motivation is something other than concern for artist masters."
Howard King of King, Holmes, Paterno & Soriano, LLP is an attorney for the plaintiffs, and he responded with a statement in which he accused UMG of faking transparency after a decade of trying to cover up what happened with the fire. He also called into question their own previous claims of massive losses in settlement lawsuits and insurance claims.
"UMG claims in their press releases they now want to be transparent with the artist community, after 10 years of concealment and deception. Their true motives are revealed by their efforts to thwart the artists’ attempts to obtain actual proof of which master recordings were destroyed," he argues.
"The proof that UMG has denied the artists includes the sealed, sworn testimony given by UMG in lawsuits it brought against NBC Universal and its own insurance carrier, in which UMG claimed massive damages for loss of master recordings."
A New York Times investigation published In June claimed that the fire resulted in the loss of master tapes from a vast array of artists that included Earle, Patsy Cline, Kitty Wells, Loretta Lynn, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Merle Haggard, George Strait, George Jones, Ernest Tubb, Lefty Frizell, Sheryl Crow, Buddy Holly and Don Henley among many more.
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